It’s 3:24am and I can’t sleep. My critical inner voice or “inner critic” is at its best, trying to keep my body and mind awake. The weekend went by so fast. It’s Sunday and here I am, wide awake, staring at the dark ceiling, thinking about both last week’s failures and the projected ones to come next week. My inner critic has taken over my mind. How did I get there? Well, within a year, I’ve started a small business, decided to go out on my own to become my own boss, and become an entrepreneur. Now, this little voice is trying to ruin it all. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this state tonight. Thousands of you are probably feeling the same right now, sleepless and doing your best to stay positive while your inner critic is bringing you down.
We all have a critical inner voice in our mind that comments on our behaviour and actions negatively. It tells us things like “You’re too dumb to do this. You’re not fast or strong enough.” According to Lisa Firestone Ph.D this voice comes from “early life experiences that are internalized and taken in as ways we think about ourselves.” It stems from painful childhood experiences or behaviours from referencial adults surrounding us. Firestone says, “as we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others.” We then create our own path in trying to avoid and/or identify to this negative pattern.
My inner critic is a very small, soft-toned, almost discreet voice. It could easily be confused with self-caring and concern. In reality, though, it is judgmental, critical and unkind. This voice is active, alert, and shows up in many ways. It is the constant mental reminder of my many mistakes, as well as harmless comments by others that I’ve exaggerated and turned into insecurities. It is imagining, with overwhelm, every uncompleted task on my To-Do List, yet being unable to start because I feel ashamed or afraid I won’t succeed in getting them done properly. No matter how many times people say, “don’t worry, you’ll do it right”, I have a hard time believing it. I struggle to accept the compliments, which are exactly what I need to move forward. Though, this little voice can be very powerful and paralyzing, taking control on our mood and our life, it’s important to know it’s just a natural defense mechanism trying to alert you.
As you may know, small business entrepreneurs have to wear many hats. In addition to all the services provided, they handle all other business facets such as customer service, marketing, financial forecasts, human resources etc. This requires discipline, as well as the ability to think ahead, be creative, constantly develop, research and bounce back whenever something unplanned occurs. When this inner critic appears, it can slow down or even halt these processes, preventing growth and progress. For example I’ve been postponing a recent project due to my own inner voice assuring me that “I’m going to fail. I’m not ready. This project is silly.”
How do I deal with this voice as it arises? First, I acknowledge its presence and influence. Then, I practice one or more of these following techniques to gain perspective:
Name That Voice
Identifying the voice is a first step in gaining confidence. There are many ways to identify and acknowledge it. It can be as simple as saying, “oh there’s that little voice again”. You can also try to find its tone. Is it a high pitch voice or a low voice? You can also give it a name. That way whenever “Joe” comes to talk to you, you can just say hello and move on. Remember that this little voice isn’t you. It’s not real; it’s your subconscious playing with you. You can just say to him or her, “yeah yeah whatever”, or “I’m not in the mood, Joe, so thank you and goodbye.”
The Red Hat
Another way of seeing it is by thinking of someone that you’ve seen many times but don’t know personally. Perhaps, you’ve seen this person walking their dog, at the grocery store, or on the bus. Imagine that this person is wearing a bright red hat today and that this image represents your relationship with your inner critic. While running errands you see that person wearing the red hat and you tell yourself, “oh that person’s got a red hat today”, and you continue walking to the grocery store. That’s it. You’ve seen, noticed, and acknowledged the hat. You said “meh, so what” and moved on. This is the same way to approach your inner critical voice. Hear it, see it, put a red hat on it if you need to, and just let it pass by, without giving it much importance.
Draw two columns. In the left column, write down everything the voice says and then write the positive opposite statement in the right column. Then, hide the left column, or fold the paper in two and read the right column. For example, in the left column I can write down, “I’m not good enough for this project.” “I’m not capable enough.” “I should’ve never quit my corporate job.” “I’m gonna fail this business meeting.” Next to it write, “I’m perfect for this project.” “I’m perfectly capable to do this job.” “I don’t need to go back to my corporate job because I hated it and I’ve totally got this.” “I’m going to nail this business meeting.” Keep these sentences as motivational quotes. Whenever a negative thought is stopping you from doing a business task or meeting someone important, just repeat the right column, with conviction and a smile, as many times as you need to.
This one is a type of active meditation that you can do anywhere–before going to bed, in the morning or while walking. Start by finding a quiet place to stand up or sit down and, once comfortable, close your eyes if it’s easier for you. Inhale deeply while lifting your arms from your sides up towards the sky, like the sun. Exhale by pushing your arms down and breathing all negative thoughts away. Continue raising and lowering the arms with the breath. As the arms rise, inhale positive, loving, warm and compassionate thoughts. As they lower, exhale dark, negative and destructive thoughts. Practice this for about ten breaths. Each time you inhale make sure to extend your arms up powerfully to gain control over that little voice. It can feel affirmative saying your positive thoughts aloud on the inhale and making noise when you exhale all negativity. Finish with both hands on your heart, giving yourself love, warmth, and light. This will calm your mind while giving you physical energy and firing up your motivation.
As an entrepreneur, be easy on yourself and don’t let your critical inner voice “Joe” destroy your future business. In entrepreneurship, we need to remember that perfection is the enemy of progress. Mistakes are a part of learning in business and in life. Let me know how you’ve done with these exercises. I’m curious to know if they’ve helped you silence your inner critic and what you think. Don’t hesitate to leave comments, questions or requests in the comment section. As for me, it’s now the morning. After writing this, I’m giving myself no excuse to postpone my project further… after a quick nap!